Scribble and the Failings of Tech Journalism

Pen

The Scribble Pen, you may remember, is a project by bay area startup Scribble Technology that puts a color sensor and multiple ink reservoirs in a pen. We’ve talked about it before, right after they cancelled their Kickstarter campaign after netting 366% of their original goal.

Yes, they cancelled their campaign after being successfully funded. To Kickstarter’s credit, the Scribble team was asked to provide a better video of the pen demonstrating its capabilities. The team pulled the plug on the campaign, saying they’ll be back soon.

Here is the new campaign. The attentive reader will notice the new campaign is not a Kickstarter project; instead, it is a Tilt campaign. What is Tilt? It’s a platform that allows for crowdfunding, fundraising, pooling, and other ‘many wallets into one’ Internet-based projects. It’s actually not a bad idea if you’re raising funds for a charity or the Jamaican bobsled team. For crowdfunded product development, caveat emptor doesn’t quite cover it.

With more than $200,000 in the bank, you would think the questions asked in many comments on the old Kickstarter would be answered. They were. Scribble put up a new video showing the pen drawing different colors of ink on a piece of paper. This video was faked. [Ch00f] at Drop Kicker took apart the new video frame by frame and found these – ahem – scribbles were inserted in post production. The video has since been replaced on the Tilt campaign page, but evidence of Scribble deleting comments questioning this exists.

Any idea of the Scribble pen being real has been put to bed. Kickstarter threatened to remove the campaign if a better video could not be produced within 24 hours. The Scribble team cancelled their campaign to regroup and put together a better video. In two weeks, the team was only able to produce a faked video. The Scribble pen does not exist.

Case closed, you might think. Digging into videos frame by frame will tell you a lot, but it won’t give you the full picture. We know what happened with the Scribble pen, but very little about the who, why, and how this huge, glaringly obvious fraud occurred. Before we get to that, hold on to your hats – it only gets shadier from here on out.

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Scribble: Wait, Kickstarter Is Vetting Projects Now?

PenFirst rule of reading anything: if a headline is an interrogative, the answer is a resounding ‘no’. This might be the one exception to that rule.

This Kickstarter is actually fairly interesting. Not because it’s an obvious scam, mind you, as there’s very, very little to actually call a scam. It’s noteworthy because it was on track to be a highly successful campaign but it was shut down by the creators just days after its launch.

Before getting to the unsavoriness of this Kickstarter campaign, a little bit of history is in order. Several years ago and before crowd funding was a thing, a designer came up with a rather clever if completely improbable idea: a color picking pen. Simply hold the end of a pen up to an object, press a button, and using technology and/or magic the pen now writes in that color. There are obvious shortcomings in the design like using red, green, and blue ink cartridges for color mixing – a classic case of confusing additive and subtractive color models. Still, this is just a design concept and over the years the idea of a color sensing pen that mixes ink has bounced around the Internet. With enough people willing to throw money at their screens in the hopes of actually getting a product as interesting as this, you just know it’s going to be on Kickstarter sooner or later.

Enter the Scribble Pen. Yes, it’s the same idea as the 5+ year-old color picking pen, with a few of the technical challenges already addressed. They’re using a CMYK (plus White) color model that can theoretically reproduce just about any color, and do so on any color paper. How are they doing this? I have no idea, but the whole campaign is super, super sketchy.

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Behold! The Most Insane Crowdfunding Campaign Ever

foam

Hold on to your hats, because this is a good one. It’s a tale of disregarding the laws of physics, cancelled crowdfunding campaigns, and a menagerie of blogs who take press releases at face value.

Meet Silent Power (Google translation). It’s a remarkably small and fairly powerful miniature gaming computer being put together by a team in Germany. The specs are pretty good for a completely custom computer: an i7 4785T, GTX 760, 8GB of RAM and a 500GB SSD. Not a terrible machine for something that will eventually sell for about $930 USD, but what really puts this project in the limelight is the innovative cooling system and small size. The entire machine is only 16x10x7 cm, accented with a very interesting “copper foam” heat sink on top. Sounds pretty cool, huh? It does, until you start to think about the implementation a bit. Then it’s a descent into madness and a dark pit of despair.

There are a lot of things that are completely wrong with this project, and in true Hackaday fashion, we’re going to tear this one apart, figuring out why this project will never exist.

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Hackaday Links: July 20, 2014

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Etch-a-Sketch spray-painted silver with electronics bolted onto the side? Sign us up! This art installation adds one thing that we don’t often see in these types of hacks, eerie audio.

If you’re still mining bitcoin you need to do it faster than anyone else… that’s pretty much how the whole thing works. [Lewin] has been using the Antminer USB ASIC and toyed around with overclocking to 2.2 GH/s (gighashes per second) but to make sure his hardware holds up to the overwork he hacked his own water cooling system for the dongle.

Smart phones are the best bang for your buck on portability and power. Better yet you can get slightly broken ones for a song. If you manage to find an Android device with a broken touch screen but functioning LCD try this trick to add a mouse to it. There must be another life for this in a future hack!

We have a love-hate relationship with this particular crowd-funding campaign. First this hate: It’s basically a 100% clip-art video presentation with an $800,000 ask. Yeah… good luck buddy. On the other hand, this is the type of stuff we actually want to see as crowd funding. The idea is to use modern materials and techniques to build [Nikola Tesla's] Wardenclyffe Tower, which was designed and built to research wireless energy (both as a means of communication and actual energy transfer). It was never fully functional and ended up being demolished. Wouldn’t it be great if teams of highly skilled and motivated people took grand ideas like this, crossing every theoretical “t” and dotting every theoretical “i”, and then proposed a crowd funding campaign to build a test platform? Oh wait, that sounds very much like a government research grant. Anywhoo… check out the Global Energy Transmission’s campaign.

Hardware Startup Review: Spark

The Hardware Startup Review - Spark - Hackaday-01

Like it or not, a whole new wave of Hardware Startups is coming our way. Crowd Funding campaigns are making it possible for everyone with an idea to “test the waters”, tech-savvy Angel investors are eager to help successful ones cross over, and Venture Capitalists are sitting on the other side, always on the lookout for potential additions to their “hardware portfolio”. It’s these billion-dollar acquisitions that made everyone jump on the bandwagon, and there’s no going back. At least for now.

That’s all great, and we want to believe that good things will come out of this whole frenzy. But instead of staying on the sidelines, we thought Hackady should get involved and start asking some hard questions. After all, these guys didn’t think they’d be able to get away with some nicely produced videos and a couple of high-res photos, right?

For our first issue, we picked a relatively innocent target – Spark, the team behind the Spark Core development board. By embracing Open Source and Open Hardware as the core part of their strategy, Spark has so far been a positive example in the sea of otherwise dull (and potentially creepy) IoT “platforms”. So we thought we should give [Zach Supalla], CEO of Spark a call.

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Hackaday Links: September 15, 2013

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First a quick announcement. We changed our “Kickstarter” category to “Crowd Funding“. We get a huge number of tips about crowd funding projects. We’re always interested in details. If you’re trying to get your crowd funding campaign on our front page make sure you’ve shared as many gritty project details (development process, problems/successes along the way, etc.) as possible . We usually prefer if this is done in a separate blog post from the campaign page itself.

Here’s a peephole hack that purportedly cost four grand. It uses a full on DSLR for the peephole hardware. Add a motion sensor and maybe you’ll be able to learn the faces of the neighbors who live on your floor. [via Gizmodo]

[Matthias] tells us that support for Rigol DS1052E oscilloscopes has been included in the 3.11 version of the Linux Kernel. Prior to this, getting the hardware to work on Linux was a hack, and a buggy one at that. For what it’s worth, here’s confirmation that support was added.

A post about reverse engineering the FitBit Aria Wi-Fi scale was sent in by [Christopher]. This makes us wonder if you could patch into a digital scale, using your own electronics to spoof the FitBit version?

We always keep our paperboard six-pack carriers so that we have a way to transport our homebrew beer. But rolling into a party with this laser-cut beer caddy which [Daniel] designed looks a lot cooler.

Texas Instruments has an MSP430 Selection Guide (PDF) which we found interesting. The first nine pages or so are pretty much just marketing, but several pages of parametric tables found after that make for a great collection of data on the hardware families. [via Dangerous Prototypes]

[Antoine] spared no expense building a coffee table that showcases his old motherboards. The illuminated glass and wood art piece rang in at around $400 in materials. We’re a little more minimalist with our home decor. We still want something along the lines of this LED matrix version.

Speaking of LED matrices, [Mario] dropped off a link to his LED Space Invaders game in the comments of last week’s Game of Light post. What we can’t figure out is why so many people hesitate to send in a tip about their awesome projects?

A fast and easy-to-use vision sensor

At Hackaday we don’t often feature kickstarter campaigns, but this one is worth noticing in our opinion. It is called Pixy, a small camera board about half the size of a business card that can detect objects that you “train” it to detect.

Training is accomplished by holding the object in front of Pixy’s lens and pressing a button. Pixy then finds objects with similar color signatures using a dedicated dual-core processor that can process images at 50 frames per second. Pixy can report its findings, which include the sizes and locations of all detected objects, through one of several interfaces: UART serial, SPI, I2C, digital or analog I/O.

The platform is open hardware, its firmware is open source and GPL licensed, making the project very interesting. It is based on a 204MHz dual core ARM cortex M4 & M0, uses a 1280×800 image sensor and can stream the processed camera output to your computer. You can get one Pixy in the kickstarter campaign for $59, which is not that expensive for what it is.

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